Where Voyager and Pioneer will end up as they drift through deep space

Revealed: The stars that Voyager and Pioneer probes will visit in millions of years’ time as they drift through deep space forever

  • Scientists have plotted the trajectories of the Voyager and Pioneer probes as they travel beyond solar system
  • The two Voyager craft both launched in the late 1970s and left the heliosphere in 2012 and 2018, respectively
  • Voyager 1 is expected to reach Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the sun, in about 16,700 years, they say
  • It will take much longer for Voyager 2 to get there, at an estimated 20,300 years from now, study found

It’s been six months since NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft left the protective bubble around our solar system known as the heliosphere and officially crossed into interstellar space, marking the second time ever a human-made object has traveled so far.

Voyager 2 followed in the footsteps of its predecessor, Voyager 1, and both craft will eventually be joined in the ‘space between the stars’ by the Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, and New Horizons missions.

While all will run out of fuel and die, and Earth will lose contact with the craft (for those of which it hasn’t already), they could continue to drift farther and farther into deep space for thousands or even millions of years.

Scientists have now calculated where they expect each of these craft to end up throughout the course of their respective journeys, starting with our nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri.

Notably, Voyager 1 will then travel on to a very close encounter with the star TYC 3135-52-1, roughly 46.9 light-years from the sun, and eventually to Gaia DR2 2091429484365218432, which sits 520.22 light-years away – but, it will be 3.4 million years before it gets there, according to Space.com.

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It’s been six months since NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft left the protective bubble around our solar system and officially crossed into interstellar space, marking the second time ever a human-made object has traveled so far. Their position in relation to our solar system is shown above

WHAT IS THE HELIOSPHERE? 

The sun sends out a constant flow of solar material called the solar wind, which creates a bubble around the planets called the heliosphere.

The heliosphere acts as a shield that protects the planets from interstellar radiation. 

Voyager 2 passed the outer edge of the heliosphere on Nov. 5. 

This boundary, called the heliopause, is where hot solar wind meets the cold, dense interstellar medium. 

In a new study published in the journal IOPscience, a duo from NASA and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany attempted to plot the close approaches Voyager 1 and 2 and Pioneers 10 and 11 will eventually make in interstellar space.

For all but one, Proxima Centauri will be the first flyby – though this won’t come for many thousands of years.

Voyager 1 will pass the star in about 16,700 years, though from a faraway distance of about 3.59 light-years away, followed by Pioneer 11 in 18,300 years and Voyager 2 in 20,300 years.

Pioneer 10, on the other hand, will first fly past the small star Ross 248, roughly 10.3 light-years away.

Calculating the path of these craft so far in the future is no simple task, and the team built upon methods they previously used to trace the possible origin of the mysterious interstellar object ‘Oumuamua.

‘Although they will cease to operate long before encountering any stars (the Pioneers already have), it is nonetheless interesting to ask which stars they will pass closest to in the next few million years,’ the researchers explain in the paper.

‘We answer this here using the accurate 3D positions and 3D velocities of 7.2 million stars in the second Gaia data release (GDR2, Gaia Collaboration 2018), supplemented with radial velocities for 222,000 additional stars obtained from Simbad.’

While there are some uncertainties, the researchers were able to narrow down the trajectories to make note of the stars each craft will come relatively close to, within 15 parsec (about 50 light-years).

In some cases, the scientists expect the craft to get within 1 pc of certain stars, or a distance of just over 3 light-years. All of these encounters, however, will occur far in the future.


Scientists have now calculated where they expect each of these craft to end up throughout the course of their respective journeys, starting with our nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri. Artist’s impressions of Pioneer 10 (left) and Voyager 1 (right) are shown 

Voyager 1 is expected to come within 0.3 pc, or less than 1 light-year, of the star TYC 3135-52-1, which sits roughly 46.9 light-years from the sun.

This flyby will occur about 302,700 years from now.

It will also make a close approach of Gaia DR2 2091429484365218432 in about 3.4 billion years, coming within about 1.27 light-years.  

The research highlights the extreme journeys these craft will make as they press on long beyond even our own lifetimes. 

‘It was mostly a bit of fun,’ author Coryn A. L. Bailer-Jones, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy told Space.com.

‘But it also reminds us how long it takes to get to nearby stars at the kind of speeds these spacecraft have achieved (around 15 km/s relative to the sun).’

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    WHAT IS INSIDE THE DISK ON THE VOYAGER PROBES?

    Voyager 1 and 2 both carry a Golden Record of Earth with 115 pictures of life on our planet and messages in 59 languages that aim to serve as evidence of our civilisation.

    The 12-inch gold-plated copper disk contains a variety of natural sounds, such as waves, wind, thunder, birds, whales and other animals.

    It also has a message from Jimmy Carter who was the US president when the spacecraft launched.

    ‘This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings’, he said.

    ‘We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.’


    Voyager 1 and 2 both carry a Golden Record of Earth with 115 pictures of life on our planet and messages in 59 languages that aim to serve as evidence of our civilisation.  The disk carries a photograph of page 6 of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica Volume 3, De mundi systemate (On the system of the world) (left). It also carries a picture showing how humans feed by licking and eating (right)

    The record has a protective aluminium jacket as well as a catridge and a needle.

    ‘The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilisations in interstellar space’, said Carl Sagan of Cornell University.

    ‘But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.’

    It also contains a solar location map of Earth so future civilisations could find our planet.

     

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